Evolution of Six Sigma Efforts and the Implications for Green Belt Programs

Most Six Sigma/continuous improvement deployments feature some sort of grass-roots effort to engage the wider employee base in improvement activity. In some situations these efforts are termed “Green Belt” whereas at other organizations they might take different names (such as kaizen teams).

Whatever the terminology, it is useful to think of these efforts against the evolving needs of the organization. Specifically, in most Six Sigma/continuous improvement deployments there is, if the effort is successful, a shift from early win, low-hanging fruit, tactical projects (for both Black Belts and Green Belts), towards larger and larger projects that tackle more complex issues and eventually entire process systems.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the purpose and nature of employee engagement efforts must also evolve. All too frequently, however, an organization’s conception and deployment of programs such as Green Belt remains static.

In general, the shift is characterized by a movement away from a project-centric approach to improvement to one which is a blend of both projects and a process management, or the ongoing operation of processes on-the-job. All along this evolution, there are a number of options for how to engage and leverage employees.

For example, in the middle phase of the evolution suggested, to what extent do we choose to focus Green Belts on acting as team members on larger Black Belt-led projects? Conversely, do we have Green Belts lead more complex projects themselves? In both cases there are important skills and time considerations. Will GBs have the necessary time to act as team members? As team members, will they have the requisite depth of specialized skills needed by team members on complex projects (for example, unlike a basic low-hanging fruit project, where basic knowledge of data analysis is sufficient, a Green Belt on a more complicated project might need to understand something like process simulation, sampling, or optimization to add value to the project)? If they are to lead more complex projects, again will they have the time and will they have the breadth of skills needed to lead such projects?

There is no one, single correct way to approach the engagement and deployment of employees in a continuous improvement effort. What is recommended, however, is that one give careful thought to whether and how the nature of your organization’s performance improvement effort has evolved and consequently how your employee engagement approach also needs to change.

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